The Tricky Weakness Interview Question

The interviewers A Bomb - the dreaded weakness interview question. You’re probably feeling pretty buoyant and exuding a healthy self confidence if you’ve just come from the page where we discussed how to describe yourself for a job interview positively. Now that you’ve identified your positive qualities you might be wondering if that is all about to change now that we tackle the tricky weakness interview question

Well to put it bluntly, no it isn’t. Interviewers may like to think that pulling this question out of their bag of tricks will knock you off balance and have you either blithering like an idiot or burying yourself in a deep, deep hole, but it certainly doesn't have to be that way if you're well prepared. And ensuring that you are as prepared as the best boy scout is the aim of this post. You will be so prepared that you will come to relish being asked this interview question!

That's because there is one answer to the weakness interview question that works particularly well and it’s one that never fails to impress the interviewer - (I have used it successfully numerous times and have coached others to do so as well, the result being a nice new job and interviewers who think you are the best thing since sliced bread!). It is by no means the only good answer to the weakness interview question (I will be writing another post shortly on the other methods) but in my experience, it is one of the best.

Your Positive is Also Your Negative
My approach to answering this tricky question, involves using the list of positive characteristics you have already identified and doing an about turn – flipping things on their head a little. 

You see, nearly any positive characteristic that you can think of also has a negative or dark side when the attribute is taken too far and highlighting your awareness of this fact when you get asked one of the following variations on the weakness interview question, will show a great level of maturity. Also, the interviewer will be able to relate personally to the truth of your answer - we all know that sometimes the things that are special and unique about ourselves can also cause problems.

Examples of the Weakness Interview Question
  • What are your weaknesses?
  • What do you most need to improve on?
  • What is your greatest/biggest weakness?
  • What do people most often criticize about you?
  • Why shouldn’t I hire you?
There are several important elements involved in answering this interview question properly, but first off take a look at a list of positive descriptive words and the corresponding adjectives we can use to describe their negative side below. My suggestion is to pick out a couple you can work with. 

Positive Attribute           Negative Side
Honesty Bluntness
Attention To Detail Picky, Hard To Please
Persuasive Manipulative
Focused Blinkered
Communicator Talkative/Chatty
Competitive Aggressive/Cut Throat
Passionate Compulsive
Adaptable Flighty / Inconsistent
Tenacious Stubborn
Logical Lacking Empathy
Persistent Obsessive
Flexible Submissive
Self Reliant Selfish
Imaginative Lost In Thought
Proactive Rebellious
Creative Absent-Minded
Self Belief Cocky/Arrogant
Down To Earth Matter-Of-Fact
Enthusiastic Restless
Direct Brusque
Open Minded Indiscriminate
Patient Lacks Drive
Results Driven Fixated
Impartial Detached
Disciplined Controlling

As an example, let's say you picked the honesty attribute and it's corresponding negative side of bluntness. How can we work with that fault to answer the weakness interview question without making ourselves sound like an insensitive fool? 

The trick is to minimize the weakness while highlighting the benefits of the attribute by paying attention to the language we use. 

When Describing Your Weakness Use Minimizing Words
  • “Sometimes”
  • “Now and again”
  • “Occasionally”
  • “At times”
  • “From time to time” 
  • "A little"
  • "A bit"
  • "Slightly"
Sentence Examples
Occasionally I can be a little blunt.”
"From time to time my colleagues have said I can be a bit blunt." 
"Now and again, being very honest has meant that I can come across as slightly blunt"
    Return the Emphasis Back to the Positive

    But don't just leave it at that. Straight after you have informed the interviewer of your weakness you need to turn the emphasis back to the positive side of the quality. Tell them: 
    1. Why this weakness hasn't caused any severe problems
    2. Why the positive side far outweighs the negative
    3. That you are aware of, and are working on, any negatives
    The Perfect Answer?

    "Occasionally I can be a little blunt, but for the main part my colleagues have said that they really appreciate my forthrightness because they always know where they stand with me. My previous managers have always referred to my directness as a valuable quality in the teams I have worked in and while this has caused very minor problems now and again, I am happy to apologize and move on if I do offend someone slightly. As I get older I have become more aware of other people's sensitivities and think more before I speak, so it's definitely something I am aware of and do less and less frequently. While I do recognize that honesty taken too far can come across as rude and blunt sometimes, on the whole I think that it is a positive attribute to possess and that the good outweighs the bad."

    How does that sound? Do you think that the interviewer would be impressed with that answer to the their trickiest weakness interview question? I do and I have seen it work many times.

    Let me know how it works for you or if you need help formulating your own answer to the weakness interview question, leave a comment and I'll do my best to help.